Grassroots committee forms to ‘monitor, advise, and support’ the re-established Edison Water Utility

Water drips from a faucet in Ocean Grove on February 2.
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Water drips from a faucet in Ocean Grove on February 2.

EDISON – An organic grassroots effort re-established the Edison Water Utility and another grassroots committee will “monitor, advise and support” the utility as it begins to address the water and sewer system’s biggest needs.

The South Edison Community Association (SECA) has created a new grassroots citizens committee called Edison Water Watch.

“Our new committee members are volunteers with a variety of expertise,” said Dawn Santana, chair of Edison Water Watch. “Each [member] lives in Edison and are genuinely concerned about our town’s ability to provide reliable, affordable water and sewer service. Remember, our town has not operated its own water and sewer utility for over two decades, so it is creating this utility from the ground up. That’s going to be an enormous and expensive task.”

Effective Jan. 1, the utility started to operate and manage the water distribution system previously managed by New Jersey American Water.

Robert Smith began his role of managing the township’s new water and sewer utility’s day-to-day operations, supervising personnel and overseeing maintenance, in November 2019.

For six weeks, Smith was building the new Edison Water Utility essentially from the ground up. He had been working on building a team of 22 members.

Smith said the department has addressed the water and sewer system’s biggest needs in a five-year capital plan, which include connections to the three township pump stations.

Edison’s water and sewer infrastructure has not been upgraded in 60 to 70 years and needs to be replaced. In 2019, the township had proposed a $811.3 million new public-private partnership with Suez North America, a Paramus-based water and wastewater company, to see if it was the right fit for the township.

However, public dissent against the proposed partnership led to a petition and a referendum with the help of New Brunswick-based Food and Water Watch. The Edison Water Utility was re-established following the passage of a referendum in September 2019 which mandated that the public water distribution system be operated and managed by the township.

Smith said since he came on board, 10-15% of 300 miles of water and sewer lines have been televised and cleaned. He said the current skeleton staff of nine members, which includes the supervisor, televises and cleans the lines when they have time.

Santana said the goal of the committee is to protect people’s water quality and their wallets.

“This is not political, it’s personal,” she said. “Over 12,000 South Edison property owners pay water and sewer fees for this new utility. Everyone pays taxes. Everyone wants clean, affordable drinking water and toilets that flush. It doesn’t get more personal.”

Edison Water Watch intends to monitor, assist and support the town’s new water and sewer utility; examine the utility’s policies of hiring practices, outside contracts, repair costs and responsiveness to property owners; make helpful recommendations; and promote clean water initiatives and support healthy rivers, streams and water supplies.

The committee will host public forums and partner with environmental groups to promote clean, safe drinking water.

Along with Santana, Edison Water Watch volunteers include civil engineer Jeffrey Reeves; financial expert David Brennan; Edison Greenways president Robert Takash; biochemical engineer Jill Mesonas; community activist Rajesh Patel; and small business owner Anthony Russomanno.

Santana said the new committee has no affiliation with New Brunswick-based Food and Water Watch or the 10-person advisory committee Edison Mayor Thomas Lankey appointed last October to assist the utility. The committee has not met since December.

For more information about Edison Water Watch, visit www.southedisoncommunityassociation.com/projects.